Sunday 13 December 2015

Dolphin and Whale watching

Oh my goodness what a day we had! 
We set off at 06.15 in the hopes of spotting dolphin or whales before they disappear at about midday and head out to deeper waters. Dolphins come near to the shore and particularly like the river estuary areas where they come most days to play and socialise.
A simple breakfast on board followed by us standing on the top deck, hands on foreheads staring out into the distant waters hoping to see a fin. (not a phrase I ever thought I would use)

Sure enough, our marine biologist was right, there they were in the bay, three pods, the fins clearly visible, then disappearing, then they would pop up again somewhere else.
There is something pretty magical about having dolphins approach you out of shear curiosity, they swam around the boat to whoops of joy as we took photos and marvelled at them.
After half an hour we had to head off to deeper waters to search further and to our delight, a pod played in the bow waves of the boat! amazing! They stayed with us for a good 10 minutes then returned to the bay.

There was me leaning right over to take this photo. I was thrilled with it! The dolphin were on both sides of the boat, about 15 in total, quite an experience I can tell you!

We had received a tip off from a fishing boat that whales had been spotted 2 hours away, so it was off to the deeper waters in the hopes of seeing them. I have to admit, after almost 2 hours it was looking unlikely. They had probably dived into the deep.
Then all of a sudden someone shouted, there!! and sure enough, we had found them. Two pods of pilot whales including their calves.
This is how close they were to the boat!

They were incredibly fast, gliding through the waters as we tried to stay close, but not too close.
They became very curious and one even swam under the boat (gulp) its dark shape disappeared under us as we peered over the side of the boat. (I must say, if they wanted to, they could have done some damage Im sure) but they were very relaxed.

My photo really doesn't show the scale of them, or how many there were, I couldn't get them all in the frame.
We stayed with them for about half an hour, many of us became a little emotional, they certainly had a huge effect on us all. Our marine biologist had never seen as many pilot whales together emphasising just how lucky we were. 

They were heading way out to sea, so it was time we headed back towards the shore. The boat gently turned away from them and we saw them disappear into the distance.

Once nearer the shore, it was lunch on board and a bit of snorkelling.

This was my best shot, the yellow coral was blowing about in the current and these fish were snuggling into it. Really fantastic.

It was a great day, very memorable in the waters off Mauritius.

Sunday 15 November 2015

Painting Children

What a lovely day I had yesterday painting children in my watercolour workshop. Figures are my favourite subjects, I love the shapes, colours and compositional story telling  possibilities they offer. I have been working on a series of watercolours and collage paintings based around what people do when they are waiting for something, whether it be a train, bus or plane, how they occupy their time and interact with the people around them.

That aside, I wanted to show you one of the demos I had planned for yesterday. We painted mainly children paddling, which included reflections of course, so I ended the day with small group of children all being led along, ruck sacks full, off to swimming perhaps, or a day trip out (after all, we had to include feet didn't we)?

This was how I began.

I always like to allow my figures to touch in some way. This as I am sure you know is always a bit risky, especially as I like to keep things a bit wet, after all, whats the point of painting watercolour on the safe side? Far more exciting to let the colours run a bit and invite the colours to merge.

The next two children I add remembering to leave some edges for the light later on, I always use my Classic brush, people think its really big, but its the equivalent to a size 12, I would not work with anything smaller even for very small paintings.

Just the last figure to add and of course the background,this brings it all to life.
For those of you who attended the workshop yesterday, I do hope you go on to paint more children very soon, don't wait too long or all of those good tips and ideas will be forgotten.

The cheesecake is all gone now, Terry was delighted that we left him some because its his favourite!
Once I have planned my next series of workshops  for the new year and have added them to my website, I shall mention it on this blog, so until then, happy painting! and I hope to paint with you again next year.

Monday 2 November 2015

Time Flies

The past few weeks have just flown by in a bit of a whirlwind and I have,  I am afraid neglected my blog somewhat! I seem to have had a lot of deadlines, demos and workshops as well as some very important family time, with a lovely new arrival which I am thoroughly enjoying.

I had a lovely walk on Lythem St Annes beach on Saturday, its a lovely beach, particularly loved by dog walkers. The tide goes out for miles so the beach is vast, you can see tiny little figures way out on the water line and when the tide comes in, it rushes in so fast that people have been known to get trapped on sand banks, so you have to be very careful.

I have prepared my 20 paintings for the NEC show in Birmingham later this week. For those of you who don't know what the show is, its an art show designed to inspire people to paint, draw and be creative. I have been asked to demonstrate again this year for THE ARTIST &  LEISURE PAINTER magazines on their stand, so that is where you will find me. I paint 5 paintings each day giving lots of tips and ideas along the way. This year my theme is 'figures' although I also have a couple of surprises planned to keep me on my toes.

Monday 10 August 2015

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition London

I love to visit London for inspiration and for years I have been visiting the Royal Academy. I use to take my groups of students to various exhibitions about 15 years ago. We would all go down on the train and tube travelling en-mass like a little gaggle of geese, all excited and chatting as we went along. First we would have coffee, then we would drift into the exhibition. Most would wander around alone or in pairs, perhaps finding themselves standing next to another from the group, looking at the same painting.

Of course, we all liked different things and the discussions at lunch time were always fascinating. There was always some free time during the afternoon before we met again for tea then the return journey home.

I always used to buy a post card from whatever exhibition I visited and write my thoughts about it, as well as my favourite painting and over the years I amassed a box full of beautiful post cards.
I would pass a postcard around our group on the train journey home and I asked that each person write which painting they would like to take home if they could, the choices were always varied and sometimes surprising - it became such a talking point at the next classes we had. 
Its a lovely idea which I think back on from time to time, remembering exhibitions from over the years.

This year the Summer exhibition was once again varied and thought provoking. I didn't like everything of course, but there was a lot I did like. I always think a good exhibition should challenge us not just please us.

People looking at paintings have always interested me too. The way they stand, deep in thought, the way they linger and perhaps an overheard conversation or two might prove entertaining. This year I heard someone tell their companion that they thought an 'archive giggly print' was an original form of photographic printing...

The painting I would have liked to bring home with me this year was this delightful print by Anita Klein, I have always admired her work and have number of her books.

Birds Making Nests Linocut by Anita Klein

This year I did these little sketches of the RA visitors which I hope you like. I realise they are a bit quirky, but those of you who attended my drawing workshop recently will realise how looking can help so much when choosing what is necessary and what is not. People at an exhibition do tend to stand still for some time and when they do move it tends to be slowly, so sketching is easier than fast moving targets! I hope they convey to you the atmosphere  of the day.

You might like to see how I use a sketch to paint a watercolour?
This is a little watercolour I did today using one of the sketches here. I kept it simple and tried to retain the freshness, sorry if the background looks a bit grey, I will try and take another photo in better light.

Monday 20 July 2015

Lavender Fields

Snowshill Lavender is just a short drive for me and I love to visit each year. My first glimpse is the shock of purple on the distant hill and as I get nearer and I just HAVE to wind down the car windows, you won't believe the glorious smell as you approach! Then when you get into the fields, the smell as well as the sound of happy bees buzzing away is wonderful, its a great experience and worth visiting.
These are a few photos I took at the weekend, but nothing can compete with the colour and the heady smell of being there, I hope it gives you a little idea of my lovely visit.

Tuesday 30 June 2015

Almond and Apple dairy and gluten free cake recipe

This delicious gluten and dairy free cake was one of the treats I recently made for a workshop. A number of people asked for the recipe, so here it is.

My daughter is G and D free, a horror of a combination, over the years I have come to realise that substituting things in recipes usually ends in failure and I have had some spectacular failures! Once I realised that success lay in just baking recipes that happened to be without G and D everything worked. I now have some Scrummy recipes which I have tweaked, changed and experimented with and we all enjoy them.
This one is a great favourite and really simple to make.

You need a 23cms or 9 inch loose bottomed cake tin, or a loaf tin. (I think it works better in the round tin) lined with baking parchment or grease proof paper.
1 large cooking apple or two small eating apples, cored and chopped into small cubes.
zest and juice of 1 lemon
6 large eggs
200gms (8oz) caster sugar 

240gms (8.5 oz) ground almonds
1 teaspoon gluten free baking powder
0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
40gms (3.5 oz) flaked almonds

Yes, that's it, no flour, honestly I haven't made a mistake! 

Place the diced apples, lemon juice and zest in a pan and gently cook on the hob until soft but not mushy. (This is really important so that there are lovely soft appley bits in the cake)
Leave to cool.
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a bowl till light, pale and fluffy, then add the ground almonds, baking powder, vanilla extract and flaked almonds. Mix until well combined then stir in the apple mix.

Pour the cake mix into the cake tin and bake in the oven at 160C 320F for 40 minutes in the round tin 55 minutes in the loaf tin. 
Check that a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake, if it's not clean pop it back in for another 10 minutes or so. 
Leave it to cool in the tin.
This is a lovely moist cake, but you don't want it undercooked in the middle.

It will naturally sink a little when cool so don't panic! 
If you give it a go, let me know what you think of it, post a comment for others.

Friday 26 June 2015

Trip to Robin Hoods Bay

'Flaming June' we thought when we booked our trip to Robin Hoods Bay on the north east coast, and as we set off in sunshine we thought the same. However, as we drove further and further north the drizzle began and by the time we got there it was cold and pretty wet. Did that stop us? Of course not!
In the back of the car were macks (rain coats for those of you outside the UK) towels and walking gear. Maggie May was with us of course, we could never come to a glorious beach without her.

Robin Hoods Bay is the finish of the  famous 'Coast to Coast' walk beginning at St Bees, its 192 miles and takes about 2 weeks, ending up at The Bay Hotel (where we stayed)
My Dad did this walk many years ago and I remember collecting him in the car from here. (Bob Peart runner - Google him) He had a story about collecting his pebble - I should just mention that its customary to pick up a pebble on the beach at St Bees and carry it to Robin Hoods Bay, then pick up a pebble from there too. 
As he bent down to pick up a pebble at St Bees he heard an almighty THUD... and lying just feet away from him was a cow! Fallen off the cliff! Honestly, it really happened. None of his walking stories compared with his near miss he said the headlines would have read - 'man killed by falling cow before as he began the Coast to Coast walk'

So it was with fond memories that I walked into The Bay Hotel - a traditional old fashioned pub.
Our room overlooked the beach and slipway which Maggie enjoyed as much as we did. 

The following day the sun came out and it was glorious. The tide goes out such a long way leaving rock pools and the beach is fabulous. Its a glorious rugged coast line, magical in all weathers.... but particularly in sunshine!

At 4.30am the beach is particularly wonderful, many people don't see it like this. High tide was 9.00am and the water comes right up to the harbour wall, so looking out of the bathroom window, looking down is just swirling water!

If you walk along the beach (or cliff top walk) heading south the next little bay (20 mins) there is a wonderful youth hostel and cafe where you can get a wonderful cup of coffee in lovely surroundings, really worth stopping there for a break. If you get there by beach and the tide comes in, you can always go back via the coastal path, these little inlets do get cut off by the incoming tide.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings - we had a wonderful three days.

Thursday 28 May 2015

New workshop and a bit of personal news

Those of you who like to come to my workshops from time to time will perhaps have realised that I am not offering any workshops in September or October this year, this is because at the end of September we are expecting our first grandchild! We are very excited about it of course and perhaps this has inspired me a little with the final workshop I am offering for this year on November 14th. Painting children paddling, we will be painting a couple of paintings during the workshop, of both boys and girls. 
This will give you an idea of the kind of thing we will do.

I will be able to paint some more examples for you this summer when the river here in the village is crowded with children many with little fishing nets and home made boats. I will enjoy sharing these lovely techniques with you in November. 

Monday 25 May 2015

Visit to the Lake District

I love to visit Keswick in Cumbria, its one of my favourite places to meet family and go walking with Maggie May and this Spring we had four wonderful days there.
The early mornings can be glorious, no one is about and if there is not a breath of wind the reflections look amazing.
Its funny but I find myself whispering on these lovely mornings, sound seems to carry across Derwent water, the birds seem louder, our footsteps crunch in the pebbles and I feel like we are intruding on nature. Its a truly magical place.

Maggie explores all over and sniffs along the shoreline, she discovers all sorts of things we perhaps would not notice. This is one of the boats you can take out onto the lake.... I have to say, we took the motorised one instead!
You can buy a day ticket for the boats on Derwent water, they go both clockwise and anti clockwise round the lake, stopping of at the little jetties along the way.
We tend to go on one leg (not literally of course) get off at the first stop, then walk along the pathway round the lake till we reach the next jetty, where we pick up the next boat, then we go off to the next jetty.

If we fancy a coffee we get back on a boat again and head for a hotel or an obviously populated place where the boat stops. We meet all kinds of lovely people walking in both directions, often seeing them again later in the day.

The walks take us through some of the most beautiful scenery, very unspoilt. the sheep have all had their lambs which seemed so tame, they were wandering over the paths oblivious to us. Maggie however had to be kept on her lead because she would want to 'play' with them, which would be a disaster! She has never been so close to lambs other than on the farm with a gate in-between.
They were adorable!

We took lots of photos, walked for miles, found some great pubs to eat in and enjoyed being with family, catching up with news and getting lots of fresh air.
The Lake District is so different from Bourton on the Water but both have a lovely slow pace. No one rushes about, and we all find the time to smell the roses.

Wednesday 29 April 2015

So you think you can't draw?

I often hear people say 'I can't draw a straight line' but if we haven't been taught how to draw, why would we think its something we do automatically? We are taught to write and if we can write, we can certainly draw... its the seeing bit thats tricky.

I decided to offer a drawing workshop and to be honest, I wasn't convinced that it would run, people seem to scarred of drawing that they tend to avoid it, but I was thrilled that the class filled really quickly and I even had a waiting list.

It turned out to be a fabulous day!

I stupidly did not take a camera with me so I asked the participants to email me their drawings so I could show you them, and I am pleased to say, that some did.
Remember these people 'cant draw' and we only had a day.... these were some of the results..
I think they are brilliant!

Sue Cooks drawing

Andrew Cooks drawing

Sue Cooks drawing

Sue Cooks drawing

Sue Martins drawing

Sue Martins drawing

The way we look at our surroundings is so important an influences what we put on the paper. All of the group now have sketch books and are determined that they will draw regularly.
Its so rewarding seeing people achieve such great results, I hope you too think they have done incredibly well.

Tuesday 24 March 2015

Painting in Portugal

What a lovely week I had in Portugal last week, we soaked up the sun like lizards and did a little painting as well! We stayed in this pretty hotel which was also a farm, fresh eggs in the morning and peacocks on the roofs - it just had to be my first demo.

There was also a natural swimming pool, when I say natural, it was man made, but the water was pumped around channels and filtered through plants, it was so clean that there were terrapins in it... can you imagine, swimming with terrapins? It was a little bit too chilly but I bet its fabulous in the summer. People were a bit sceptical when they saw the terrapins, but like I said, there are fish in the sea, so whats the difference?

The coastline was fabulous, really dramatic sea stacks and tiny little beaches as well as long sandy beaches, real contrasts.
This little beach was a bit special because only three of us made it down there, you got to it by going down steep steps then going through a tunnel adjoining one beach to this one. We felt like it was a secret world, I could have stayed there and painted all day!

It wasn't all wall to wall sunshine all week though, we had two overcast and showery days when we painted under cover. 

There were oranges dropping off the trees in the orchard so it seemed like such a perfect opportunity to paint wet into wet bright colours and enjoy the morning.

In the afternoon we focused on figures and various ways to paint them using watercolour as well as water soluble pencils.

This was my little demo using my Classic brush to suggest different figures.

Our subjects during the week were varied, we visited towns,  harbours, beaches and dramatic coastlines. At the end of the week I asked which was the place people liked the most and they were all different, everyone found something to enjoy painting or sketching and the week was a lovely one.